Tuesday, 22 April 2008

BBC in smear against Irish treaty critics

On Tuesday 15 April, the BBC reported that an "anti-EU gang" had assaulted the prominent Irish MEP Proinsias de Rossa after a debate in Dublin on the Lisbon Treaty.

The article - written, as so often, by an un-named BBC correspondent and apparently taking a spokesman for a leading pro-treaty party as its only source - said that Mr de Rossa had been "confronted" by a group of men who had "screamed abuse at him" before "knocking him over and pinning him down".

Now this all sounds very serious, and not at all the appropriate way to conduct political debate within a democracy.

Or it would have been, if the BBC report was remotely accurate.

Because it has emerged that the hapless MEP in question in fact tripped and fell on his face while running away from a calm on-camera attempt to ask him a question.

Footage exposes story as fake

The entire incident was caught on camera, showing that the description provided by the leader of the Irish Labour Party, and reported unquestioningly by the BBC, is a complete fabrication and blatant attempt to smear treaty-critics ahead of the looming public vote.

The footage clearly shows de Rossa being approached slowly by the cameraman and an activists with the anti-treaty group We Are Change Ireland, who asks, “Why did you do it?” - a reference to the MEP's recent vote in the European Parliament against respecting the outcome of the Irish referendum.

The two begin walking down the street and de Rossa is the first to physically put his hand on the activist as he moves him out of the way to cross the street.

But then it seems it's De Rossa himself who snaps, first lunging at another nearby cameraman and then proceeding to chase him down the street, before quite independently tripping and falling to the ground.

Questions for the BBC

Knowing the sensitivity of the current EU debate in Ireland, with an important vote looming, did the BBC not obtain the confirmation of any other independent sources confirming the pro-treaty camp's "assault" version of events?

Where are the people who "screamed abuse" before he fell down? And who exactly did the "knocking him over"? None of that is evident from the footage.

It seems the Police confirmed there was an incident, but did they confirm it was "assault"? As the BBC's own article towards the end admits, "Police took statements from witnesses but made no arrests". The activists involved claim they themselves flagged down a passing Police van.

Inaccuracy and bias

Beyond problems of inaccuracy in the BBC's article, it also provides a clear example of subtle continued bias that EU-critics have long complained about.

In a passing reference to the Lisbon Treaty, the article says that it has the aim "of making EU institutions more efficient, now that the bloc has 27 member states".

This is not an unequivocal fact, as the BBC seems to accept (given no opposing voice is offered), but a highly controversial assertion made by the treaty's supporters.

Critics claim that the treaty has nothing to do with 'efficiency' but in fact has only the aim of continuing the process of centralising ever-more decision-making in a growing Brussels 'state',

We would point out that both previous EU treaties - Amsterdam and Nice - were also claimed to be necessary for an enlarged EU, and ask how many times exactly are we expected to fall for this supposed justification for passing more power to the EU?

Doubts re-awakened

The BBC's reporting of this incident re-awakens serious questions - following the 2005 Wilson report into BBC bias and the more recent revelation that the Corporation has taken out £141 million in 'soft loans' from the EU - as to the BBC's journalistic authority and integrity when reporting EU issues.

Having today registered a complaint with the BBC and provided them with this information, we'll be watching the article to see if, in the interests of fairness and impartiality, it is removed and a correction is published at least as prominently as the original article was.

If this doesn't happen, it will surely be confirmed either that the BBC ignores complaints or, worse, that the Corporation has sought to help one side of a controversial political debate perpetrate a blatant smear on the other in the context of a hotly contested public debate and vote.

Either way, not exactly the behaviour expected from an allegedly 'impartial' organisation.

1 comment:

The Democracy Movement said...

As a follow-up to this, we received no reply to our complaint and the article remains as it was originally written. Clearly the BBC has no interest in the truth when it spies an opportunity to smear the EU's critics.

As a first step, administration of complaints against the BBC must be taken out of the BBC's own hands. Currently the Corporation is a law unto itself, claiming impartiality while being anything but - and no-one is able to enforce change.

Yet the Corporation still enjoys huge sums of money extracted from the public, like taxes, by force of law for mere ownership of a TV.

One or other has to change.